Tue, Oct 21, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Highway tunnel pilot road finished

AFP , TAIPEI

Engineers yesterday completed a pilot road for the most difficult stretch of what will be the longest highway tunnel in Asia.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was present yesterday when a huge tunnel boring machine pierced though the last tonnes of stones in the pilot tunnel of the Hsuehshan Tunnel.

The pilot tunnel, some 750m underground, is primarily designed to give engineers some idea about the rock formation of the site.

"The significance of the pilot tunnel is that from now on, we can say for sure we will be able to get a total picture of Hsuehshan Tunnel's complicated geological elements," said Chen Fu-chiang, an official with the Taiwan Area National Expressway Engineering Bureau.

So far the project has been hindered by unexpected ample underground water and broken layers of sedimentary rocks.

Ten engineers and workers have been killed and a tunnel boring machine worth NT$700 million (US$8.84 million) was destroyed by the dozens of caves-in that have beset the ambitious project since it was launched 12 years ago.

The planned 12.9km-long tunnel, which will include two separate two-lane tunnels, will form part of the 31km Taipei-Ilan highway linking Pingling town, Taipei County with Toucheng, Ilan County.

The Taipei-Ilan highway is expected to be open to the public before the end of 2005, Chen Fu-chiang said. It had earlier been scheduled for completion by 1999.

Once finished, the tunnel will reduce travel time between Taipei and Ilan to 30 minutes, down from three hours.

Chen Fu-chiang said the main contractor, the Taipei-based RSEA Engineering Corp. had altered their construction approaches by adopting a two-pronged method -- tunnel boring machines and blasting -- after foreign engineering advisers failed to tackle the geological barriers.

The entire highway project is projected to cost the government some NT$60 billion.

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